Sunday, 15 February 2009

Random and Meaningful

It was the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth on Thursday, and I was pleased to see that the Roman Catholic Church had some positive things to say, about how a biological theory of evolution complemented the Christian view of creation.

I've felt for a long time that evolution didn't take away belief in God, just one of the traditional reasons for believing: the idea that nothing as complex as the world we live in could possibly have come into existence unless there were a single powerful being to create it.

The debate I'd like to hear is not between a Christian and an atheist, but between two Christians, one of whom believes in 'creationism' and one of whom believes in God and empirical science. There's no shortage of the latter.

I get annoyed when people argue that belief in evolution requires us to believe that life has no meaning, and that everything is random. It isn't so. Randomness is only a part of evolution. It's the part that says we are all different, all shapes and sizes, and nature is wonderful in its variety.

Evolution talks about the natural selection of random variations; the idea that some variations die out, but many of them survive, and over a very, very, long time indeed, evolution created flowers and dolphins and spiders and asparagus, and people like you and me.

If you are left-handed, or have red hair, or darker skin, or you have epilepsy, it doesn't mean you belong to the Devil; it doesn't mean your family has been punished by God. I am much happier to believe that the variety in human beings exists because of random variation, rather than giving it a symbolic meaning.

Which brings me to my own family, and one of my aunts, who is a devout Christian, and quite unable to accept variety, even in her own family.

Last year, two of my cousins were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, also called manic depression. About one percent of the population are bipolar to some degree, and the condition is often associated with high intelligence and creativity.

I learned from Stephen Fry's excellent documentary "The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive" (available on YouTube) that people who live with this condition, asked if they would like to have it taken away from them, often say that they would hate to lose the positive experiences they get from being bipolar, even though they need help with the negative aspects.

This is not my aunt's point of view.

I am sorry to say that she is ashamed of her sons, and considers them a great disappointment to her. When my mother heard about this, she wrote her sister-in-law a very strong letter, and I don't think they are speaking any more.

I feel sad, and it has taken me a while to recognise that I feel angry. I haven't seen my cousins for ten years or so, but I shall certainly seek them out and make contact with them now. I'm not sure how I will respond to my aunt.


Anonymous said...

Precisely (about Darwin and Christians)

Give her a shake from me (your aunt)


Mel said...

I'd like to watch the debate if that could be arranged.

Your aunt--IS where she is.

I'll hope for her to be moved. Life is too short......

Mel said...

BTW...she's angry with them for being where they're at. (granted, they didn't ask for it or create it)
And you're angry with her for what?

Just sayin'......

One of the hardest things I get to do is wrap my head around people growing (or not) at their own pace and embracing them for all that they are AS they are.

Here-ends the lesson for the morning.

WPIML would be whapping me about now and telling me to 'knock that off--people can only know what they know'.

Yeah, yeah, yeah......